Fred's Reviews > Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship

Strange Fire by John F. MacArthur Jr.
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My pastor could have been speaking of John MacArthur when he said to me, "Your message is usually substantive and true but the way that you deliver it often leaves the other person so in reaction to the messenger that they can't receive the message." Yes, friends, I empathize with John MacArthur since I'm on of that those annoying "truth first, grace and mercy second, and let the pieces fall where they will third" guys too. And try as I may to not react to the messenger rather than the message in this review I will warn you in advance that I may not succeed.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE . . .
Anti-Charismatic books are nothing new to John MacArthur. In 1978 he published The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective. In 1993 it was Charismatic Chaos and in 2013, his latest offering, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. So three titles and thirty five years later and what has changed? Obviously, not a lot since the twenty-years old words of Vineyard Pastor, Rich Nathan are just as applicable to "Strange Fire" as they were of "Charismatic Chaos":

"Ultimately it is MacArthur's rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity."
(Rich Nathan, "Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to 'Charismatic Chaos'", April 1993, p.27)

And this is a pity because MacArthur has always done a very good job of indentifying and condemning the excesses in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. In "Charismatic Chaos" it was the immature abuses of "out there" Vineyard churches (like the bizarre Holy Laughter of the Toronto Airport Vineyard and the insanity of the Kansas City Prophets), the zaniness of The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the charlatanism of Benny Hinn - who has very appropriately returned as the favored punching bag and dart board target of Strange Fire. To all this, like so many other, mainstream, theologically cautious and conversative Charismatics, I can only stand, applaud, and yell, "Bravo!" These are things that we are in complete agreement with Mr. MacArthur on. In fact, these are things that we ourselves have publicly and repeatedly condemned and denounced ourselves. Bravo Mr. MacArthur, bravo!

BROAD BRUSH POLEMICS
However, MacArthur isn't content with reprimanding just a few bad apples. It quickly becomes apparent that in his mind, if you're a Charismatic, you're a bad apple - period. Consider these excerpts:

"The Charismatic Movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. From its inception by Charles Fox Parham to its most ubiquitous modern representative in Benny Hinn, the entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers. True biblical interpretation, sound doctrine, and historical theology owes nothing to the movement— unless an influx of error and falsehood could be considered a contribution. Like any effective false system, charismatic theology incorporates enough of the truth to gain credibility. But in mixing the truth with deadly deceptions, it has concocted a cocktail of corruption and doctrinal poison— a lethal fabrication— with hearts and souls at stake."
(MacArthur, John F. "Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship", p. 113)

“the gospel that is driving these surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.”
(Ibid, p.xix)

As one commenter on The Pneuma Review website said well of such over the top polemics:

"There are excesses in the charismatic group that need to be addressed, but Strange Fire is devoid of any hint on J[ohn] M[cArthur]'s part to meet with these whom he feels are in error to try to make sure he understands them. In taking this to the extreme that he has, he has become an example of the extreme he is trying to point out in others."
(Rick Collins, Aug 24, 2014 8:27pm comment, "John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener")

And again, Rich Nathan's description of "Charismatic Chaos" yesterday is just as true of "Strange Fire" today:

"MacArthur doesn't rebuke charismatics as a person would rebuke a member of one's own family. The book reads like hostile fire shot by an outsider. The tone, as will be seen by the numerous pejorative adjectives that MacArthur uses to describe charismatics, is anything but familial or irenic. It is one thing to have your child spanked by your spouse. It is quite another thing to have your child spanked by a stranger. Charismatics understandably react to being spanked by someone who intentionally positions himself as a stranger and not as a "dear friend, fellow worker... and [brother]" (Philem. 1:1)."
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.3)

Folks, I could stop right there and you would have an apt brief review of Strange Fire. Unfortunately, when the specifics are considered Strange Fire gets even worse.

DOUBLE STANDARDS
Adding insult to injury is MacArthur's use of Double Standards. He spends an entire chapter pounding away at the scandals in the continuationist camp while utterly ignoring the shattered cessationist glass house behind him. As Time Magazine observed:

"Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York believes Pentecostals are no more trouble-prone than other Protestants. "The same sort of thing is happening to Baptists and Presbyterians," she says. "Except for one big thing. They are not media figures."
(David Van Biema, "Are Mega-Preachers Scandal-Prone?", Time magazine, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007)

And as someone in the Reformed camp (I’m one of those dreaded “Charismatic Calvinists” that Steve Lawson woodshedded at the Strange Fire conference) it pains me to admit that Frank Viola was largely correct when he observed:

"Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive, and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.

And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, et al. to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R. T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard, et al. to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles, et al. to characterize Fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr., et. al. to represent Reformed Baptists.

My point is that charismatic, Reformed, and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes as each of them have strong critics within their own movements. Even so, the game of burning down straw man city with a torch is nothing new."
(Frank Viola, "Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire" p.9; also cited in Michael L. Brown, "Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur's Strange Fire", p.157)

But probably no one summed it up better than Rich Nathan when he said:

"Immorality is, tragically, a phenomenon that seems to know no denominational boundaries. Indeed, several very prominent dispensational and fundamentalist leaders have had to step down from radio ministries, para-church leadership, and pastorates because of sexual immorality. One might more realistically point to the sex-drenched culture of the modern western world, the cult of sexual self expression, and the absence of the practice of spiritual disciplines as more likely explanations for the fall of charismatic pastors than their experience of speaking in tongues."
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.8)

TREATING THE EXTREME AS THE NORM
This treating extremes as the norm is the biggest problem with MacArthur's approach to Pentecostalism in general and his Anti-Charismatic books in particular. Consider this example from Strange Fire:

"More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teachers— with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos— constitute the public face of Christianity. And they propagate their lies in the Holy Spirit’s name."
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur, "Strange Fire", p. 13)

Again, writing of "Charismatic Chaos" Rich Nathan's response is just as applicable:

"MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that's balanced, Biblical, and mature. MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement - now over 400 million strong - has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God. He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement."
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.2)

And as this review is being written, Pentecostals and Charismatics not only number over 500 million adherents but represent the fastest growing segment of the modern Christian Church. All this while mainline denominations are shrinking and cessationist numbers are flattening. No numbers and don't equal veracity but, if nothing else, it bespeaks an ability to meet needs and bear fruit - something that John MacArthur sees as a net negative due to his antipathy toward continuationism in all forms. Such prejudice driven hard hardheartedness and blindness is heartbreaking.

EXAGERATION, DATA MANIPULATION, AND GUILTY BY ASSOCIATION FALLACIES
Equally concerning is how MacArthur repeatedly engages in gross exaggeration and "Guilty by Association" fallacies. Please consider this example:

"[Joel] Osteen’s muddled comment about Latter-day Saints introduces an interesting point of discussion— especially since the founders of Mormonism claimed to experience the same supernatural phenomena that Pentecostals and charismatics experience today. At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith reported various types of charismatic phenomena— including tongues, prophecy, and miraculous visions. Other eyewitness accounts of that same event made similar claims: “There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels”; and, “There the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. Hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues.” More than half a century before Charles Parham and the Pentecostals spoke in tongues, the Latter-day Saints reported similar outbursts, leading some historians to trace the roots of Pentecostalism back through Mormonism."
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,"Strange Fire", pp.51-52)

Well the "some historians" referenced in the footnote for that last sentence is exactly ONE historian, and ONE historical work (Hard Cessationist, Thomas R. Edgar's Anti-Pentecostal treatise, "Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit", p.218 and p.108)

Further, speaking as a Mormon Studies Scholar, the fact is that the early Mormons were merely one of many tongues speaking groups in the Second Great Awakening. Joseph Smith and the earliest Mormons didn't speak in tongues at all until Brigham Young and his tongues speaking brothers arrived on the scene along with their tongues speaking friend Heber C. Kimball. And, for the record, Young and his brothers were Restorationist Pentecostals (specifically tongues speaking Primitive Methodists in most cases) before joining the Mormon Church - so the phenomenon didn't, I repeat, did NOT originate in Mormonism.

Rather, it's generally conceded that the fountainhead for all this 19th Century, Second Great Awakening tongues speaking was the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival. So for a historian to claim that the roots of modern Pentecostalism can be traced back to early Mormonism isn't just ludicrous, it's hack scholarship.

But wait, MacArthur isn't done yet, there's more:

"Even today, similarities between the two groups have led some to seek for greater unity. In their book Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints, authors Rob and Kathy Datsko assert, “Although there is an incredible language and culture barrier between LDS [Latter-day Saints] and SFC [Spirit-filled Christians], often these two groups believe many of the same basic doctrines.” Though Pentecostalism has traditionally rejected the Latter-day Saints, comments like those made by Joel Osteen suggest that a new wave of ecumenical inclusivism may be on the horizon. It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians."
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,"Strange Fire", pp.51-52)

Regarding this passage, as I pointed out in my review Rob and Kathy Datsko's book, Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints MacArthur's argument is based on data manipulation, flawed evidence, and good old fashioned exageration. Please consider the following questions I posed to Mr. MacArthur in this regard:

1) Why are the Datskos implicitly presented as Charismatic Christians in your (circa 2013) book when, in fact, they have been Mormons since 2003?
Folks as soon as these folks converted to Mormonism, they were no longer Charismatic Christians, they were Latter-day Saints who were following another Jesus and preaching another gospel.

2) Where are the rest of the Charismatic Christians that you declare, are seeking greater unity with Mormons?
Friends I'm a Mormon Studies scholar and I will tell you plainly: Any that tried this (such as Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richardson, and Cal Fullerton) are now considered, marginalized, lunatic fringe, Charismaniacs by mainstream Charismatics. They have NO significant power or influence among us.

3) Why do you single out Charismatics when, in fact, it's cessationists who are taken a far greater, more active role in seeking greater unity with Mormons?
I'll name names: Craig Blomberg (Denver Theological Seminary), Christopher Hall (Episcopalian theologian), Gerald R. McDermott (Beeson Divinity School), and James E. Bradley (Fuller Theological Seminary). Oh, and let me add newcomer to the stupidity, Baptist Author and Educator, Roger E. Olson.

4) Where are all these Charismatic Latter-day Saints that you refer to on p.73 of Strange Fire?
That's where you claim, "Today there are even charismatic Mormons. Regardless of what else they teach, if they have had that experience, they are in." Footnote 53 for the passage on p.73 takes us to this: "See, for example, “Hi. I’m Kathy, I’m a born again, Spirit-filled, Charismatic Mormon” at Mormon.org, accessed March 2013" (p.290) and one clicks on the link that's provided in the footnote and it takes us to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) Kathy Datsko's Mormon testimony! Folks, no many how many times you count her Kathy Datsko is ONE, and only ONE, Charismatic Latter-day Saint. Add in her husband Rob and you now have not one but TWO Charismatic Mormons.

This is far from a trend or even a pattern people! In fact, other than these two I know of no other Charismatic Latter-day Saints. That's because Latter-day Saints have absolutely NO interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible - they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur's evidence that mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn't just exaggerated, it's non-existent.

CONFIRMATION BIAS DRIVEN EVIDENCE PRESENTATION
As continuationist Bible scholar Craig S. Keener notes:

"MacArthur’s selective approach to history is meant to substantiate his approach. Yet his appendix on church history, if intended to be representative, cherry-picks only statements that agree with him. Yes, cessationists existed; but not all orthodox believers have been cessationists. Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all claimed eyewitness accounts of healings and exorcisms. Historian Ramsay MacMullen shows that these sorts of experiences constituted the leading cause of Christian conversion in the third and fourth centuries.

MacArthur cites Augustine as an advocate of cessationism (252-53) without noting that he later changed his mind and reported numerous miracles, including raisings from the dead and some healings that he personally witnessed. John Wesley valued weighing prophecy rather than rejecting it, reports healings, and offers his own firsthand report of what he believed to be a raising from the dead. Late nineteenth-century evangelical leaders such as Baptist A. J. Gordon (for whom Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is named) and A. B. Simpson, founder of Christian and Missionary Alliance, were continuationists and recounted healing reports."
(Craig S. Keener, "John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener", The Pneuma Review website)

And it's not in the book but in the follow up video on to the book and conference that Mr. MacArthur did at The Master's Seminary entitled, "What has happened after the 'Strange Fire' Conference" (it can be seen on YouTube) John MacArthur said of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement that in 1967 "a bunch of Jesus freak people.. go to Calvary Chapel...and for the first time...that I know of in history, the church lets the very defined subculture dictate what it will be," citing "the hippie culture, communal living...kids coming out of drugs and free sex, and all that" as displacing "all the normal and formal things," and typifying the charismatic church, with the movement becoming Calvary Chapel. (video transcription from Wikipedia)

Well, I've got to tell you, I was AT Calvary Chapel in the 1970's during the height of Jesus Movement and what Mr. MacArthur has just said is nonsense! Chuck Smith's friend and colleague Jacob Prasch has called it "false witness" and I agree with him. Folks, it simply isn't true. Anyone who thinks that staid, culturally and theologically conservative Pastor Chuck wasn't fully in control of things and wasn't keeping a leash on the insanity that we hippies brought in tow with us simply wasn't there!

(This review is truncated. Read the full review on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-rev... )
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Reading Progress

December 16, 2015 – Started Reading
December 16, 2015 – Shelved
December 28, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
January 10, 2016 – Finished Reading

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